Gluck - August 2021
How to Heat and Cool your Gym
After spending a year lifting in the extremes, below 30 in the winter and over 90 with a ton of humidity, I spent a lot of time figuring out various ways to heat and cool my gym. I've used fans, heaters, dehumidifiers and now own a beastly split unit so in this article we're going to cover the most popular options out there.
The Only Thing that Really Matters
Unless you can manage to insulate and seal off your space it probably doesn't matter which of these options you install. Insulating isn't exciting or sexy but it is necessary. Here are a few things I'd check if your leaky gym is killing your gains.
Insulate your Garage Door if it's not already. There are a lot of options for kits that will work using different materials that should fit your needs.
Foam panels are a pretty easy install though the cheaper ones can sometimes be messy to cut. Kits like this can be found all over and the better ones will have a reflective layer on the outside.
One important thing to know is that there are diminishing returns on insulation values as they rise. So while you want to get the best product and highest R value you can the difference between a value of 2 versus 4 is much more pronounced than 8 versus 10.
Radiant bubble barriers are another option for your garage door which is essentially bubble wrap between two reflective layers. Now these block radiant heat rather than conductive heat but if you really want to learn more about that fun science stuff this might give you a better idea. Kits like this are a pretty good value but you have to weigh your options.
Fiberglass panels with a vinyl facing like this also work. They can be easier to install than foam depending on your tools but fiberglass isn't exactly fun to work with. As long as you wear gloves and long sleeves you'll keep the itchies down but I always end up wearing the stuff.
Other Leaky Areas to Check
We all know heat rises so the ceiling (and really any gaps) need to be well insulated and sealed off. I wanted to spray foam my garage but the cost was prohibitive so I scoured Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist and found someone reselling commercial Polyiso sheets for much cheaper than I'd get anything else. Cutting them was tedious but easy with these blades in my jig saw. After they went up Wynie sealed the edges with 3M tape. You can use fiberglass or other insulating options as long as you get a good product in there.
Doors seals can get worn down since they're used so often so check your doors for gaps and install weather stripping and seals on the bottom if needed.
Installing Flooring can make a big difference in how you feel. Standing on cold concrete is a hard feeling to overcome as it tends to suck the heat out of you.
Fancy Math Time?
Sizing your heating and cooling solutions does take some math but honestly you can use various online calculators to do the math for you. The above chart is from Senville and gives a pretty good visual to help you ballpark your unit. There are other factors than size, your climate zone, the level of insulation, and sun exposure all play a role. Spending a few minutes researching this step will save you a lot of headache down the road.
A harsh lesson we all learn is a home gym, be it in a garage, basement, or bedroom, needs the equipment maintained. It's not particularly fun but you can cut down on the frequency by keeping moisture down. Luckily it's also probably the cheapest solution on this list (besides maybe fans). I used my dehumidifiers as a stop gap until I could save up and upgrade and now I use the smaller one in the basement and the larger in the garage when I don't want to run my split unit.
This unit from Vacplus worked really well in my basement once I sealed it up a bit and now lives in my basement. Its run for 2 years straight without issue and I'm not sure I could ask for much else at the price.
I also own a much more beastly unit that I ran before things were sealed up in the garage. When I bought the place it was just an empty shell of a garage and it took me about a year to put up insulation and interior walls in my garage as I'd work on it after work when I had free time. YouTube probably took most of that so it took awhile... This unit from hOmelabs is an absolute monster. I got the 4500 sq ft version (50 pint) and WOW did it pull moisture out. It can also crank some serious heat as it's burning that humidity away. I can't complain, it keeps my bare steel barbells looking new and cut down my maintenance from literally daily on them to every month or more.
Heating Your Space
I made working out part of my lifestyle so when it got below freezing in my garage I tried a lot of things to warm it up and survive the workouts. Grabbing the bar when it burns your hand is awful and warming up to squat when you're shivering doesn't make for good workouts. I've tried a lot of things in the garage and at my family farm we deal with barns that have no insulation and sometimes they feel like the air flows better inside them than outside, suffice it to say we've brought solutions to the extremes. Here are some of my favorite options for heating your space.
Electric Heaters aren't always the most efficient but they're often a simple option. We use this one from Fahrenheat in our side rooms at the barns. It's been reliable for years and we've owned a few of them.
Infrared heaters are probably a more efficient and safe solution for some. The nice thing about them is you can ignore them, forget about them, and certain units are entirely safe around my son which is a big plus for me. They're also one of the most common plug in options for peoples houses and gyms. There are of course much larger infrared heaters than we own but we didn't go that route because we knew we'd eventually upgrade. We own two from Dr. Infrared and Wynie now uses them in her basement office during the winter time since there's no heat down there.
The first has the ability to oscillate and has a built in humidifier with a remote control.
The other (The DR968) doesn't have all the bells and whistles (but keeps the remote) but honestly they're not really needed. The humidifier is known to be OK at best. Both of them are 1500 watts on high and work well but my garage when it was poorly insulated, was too much for them.
Force Air heaters are another option that work off a fuel source like propane, natural gas, or diesel. At our farm we use these to heat barns that have essentially no insulation but they're much larger than you'd use at home. You need ventilation and to be safe with these since it's an open flame. Because of those factors they wouldn't work around my son but they definitely create a lot of heat and people use them in their garages. This one from Dyna-Glo is a popular one but you're best bet is to track it down locally as buying it online from a source like Amazon the price would be highly inflated because of shipping.
Most people are probably pretty familiar with the cooling options out there. If it works for your house, it'll work for your garage or basement (for the most part). The only issue you might have which is the same as I had, is I don't have functional windows in my garage and I wasn't willing to cut a hole through the wall when I knew I was eventually going to get a split unit.
Fans, ok it sounds a bit insulting to talk about fans, we all know how they work and what they do but I have been using two that I think work really well for what they are. The first is a 30" industrial oscillating fan made by Air King that I have mounted up on my wall. This thing pushes some serious air and is probably why I'm still alive after some of those hot summer workouts.
The second is a tower fan from Dreo that I got before I was able to snag the industrial fan. It also oscillates and has a remote but honestly it's just a fan, I turn it on and it moves air. I only mention it because it works really well for what it is, a regular old fan that pushes a lot of air.
Evaporative coolers don't work for me in New England. It's already too humid and I'm not too keen on introducing moisture into my equipment anyway. You could use them in a dry hot arid dessert but for most places they probably won't work. They are cheaper to purchase and run but rust begins forming on iron at 50% humidity and steel at 80% and if you have bare steel you'll see the effects faster than you'd have thought.
Air conditioners work inside your home so they'll obviously work in your gym. I unfortunately don't have any functional windows in my gym so a window unit wasn't going to work for me. I could punch a hole through the wall for an exhaust with a portable AC (or a window unit, I've framed and punched through the wall for that before) but I knew my ultimate goal was eventually split unit so I wasn't willing to go that option. If you do all you have to do is consider exhausting and draining off the condensation. They're more expensive and cost more to run than a swamp cooler but they're much more effective.
The Ultimate Solution
Ductless split units with a heat pump are the end all solution for most of us. They can heat and cool and are more efficient than the other options though the cost is much higher. I wanted something I could control from work (Wi-Fi enabled), that could be set to dehumidify because my stuff was taking a beating before running dehumidifiers 24/7, and would be able to keep me somewhat comfortable in the winter when it's 20 outside and the summer when it's nearing 100. I also wanted to be able to film with it on because everything else I had was way too noisy for that which lead to a lot of people on YouTube questioning why I was freezing when filming.
The only thing that would've worked as a single solution was a ductless mini split. and my first option was a DIY one from Mr Cool. These are the #1 best seller on Amazon for split systems and are also the highest rated. Best of all they're designed for DIY, pre-charged, and hit all my requirements. These ones have options from 12,000-36,000 BTUs and with thousands of reviews and tons of resources plus they were less than half the cost of someone installing a unit... it was my first choice.
I do have a friend who does HVAC so the option for having someone install one was there but I had waited for months and he had a lot of personal things going on so I was just going to DIY it and not bother him. Welp, I committed and then he found out and like a true friend convinced me to just let him do it. It cost more for the unit but he had installed hundreds of them, even in his own home so he talked me into a Mitsubishi unit. I can't complain, it's so quiet and beyond my expectations for quality. I'm not sure they make nicer ones than these but it's not made for DIY so the experience and skill required was higher.
I had gone through the gambit of solutions while saving up until I could get my split unit. They worked to varying extents and I don't regret the purchases. The fan will still work in the spring and fall, the infrared heaters go to Wynie in the basement, and the dehumidifier lives in the basement. Whatever you choose, as long as it works for your situation can end up being a great investment even if your needs change so long as you plan it out.